Why can’t I lose weight?
Because losing weight is hard!!!
There are lots of invisible obstacles that hold us back and we are surrounded by information that isn’t always helpful. In this article we are going to look at seven reasons why many of us struggle.
1: You’re Not In a Deficit
A caloric deficit is the energy shortfall created when you use more energy that you absorb from food. When you create a deficit your body draws the energy it needs to meet this shortfall from body fat, muscle protein or glycogen. This is how we lose weight. Here’s a simple visual explanation:
The state we are looking for is on the right, the caloric deficit. If your weight over the course of a month is steady then you are almost certainly close to maintenance. If weight is trending up you’re in a surplus, and if its going down you’re in a deficit. The best barometer of your progress is a scale.
Solution: Start tracking your weight accurately
The single best way to determine if you are in a deficit is to consistently weigh yourself. Your day to day body weight will bounce around due to varied hydration levels, but the long term trend will tell you exactly what is going on. Weight yourself in the morning after going to the bathroom but before eating.
2: Your Energy Needs Are Low
A problem I constantly run into with clients is the assumption that they need a certain number of calories. For example a women assume they need 2,000 calories to maintain their weight, and men assume they need 2,500. Let me destroy this myth for you? Here’s what the energy needs of 635 people look like.
You can see energy needs are all over the place. The mid range is as follows:
- 65% of women need 2,000-2,800 calories
- 60% of men need 2,600-3,800 calories
Think of this like shoe sizes. Although some people need lots of calories and some very few, most people sit in the middle. If you are unlucky enough to have low energy needs then you will need to cut calories quite aggressively to lose weight, or add a heroic amount of exercise.
Solution: Consider tracking your food intake
The only reliable way to work out your true energy needs is to track what you eat while keeping tabs on your weight. Doing this properly is a pain, but just a couple of weeks of tracking can sometimes save you months of heartache 😉
3: Your Food Environment Sucks
Chances are you are surrounded by food that isn’t help you. In the forty years between 1970 and 2010 the average American’s daily caloric intake has increased by around 500 kcal a day (about 1 Big Mac). In the same period obesity rates have risen considerably. You can see the striking correlation in the graph below.
It’s not like today’s American’s are somehow genetically different from their grandparents. What has changed is that they are now living in one of the most obesogenic environments in human history. They are surrounded by cheap, tasty and highly calorific foods which they are constantly reminded to buy. But if a bad food environment makes us fat, then can a good environment can help us lose weight?
Solution: Improve your food environment
Try to remove food from your line of site where possible and fill your kitchen with food that can help you.
4: You’re Not Very Active
There are lots of things that can effect how much energy you use, like gender, height, weight and age. But the biggest player of all is your activity level. Here’s what the correlation looks like between total daily energy expenditure and activity level looks like.
In this data set it activity level explains 40-50% of the variation. Three things that play a large part in your activity level are genetics (do you fidget a lot), your occupation (desk jobs lower activity) and the exercise you do. Despite the endless articles you read on the web about ‘boosting your metabolism’ this is not simple process.
Solution: Find a sustainable form of exercise
Because few of us have the opportunity to change jobs, I’ll focus this on exercise. To boost your activity level you need to find a form of exercise you can stick with. Lifting weights twice a week is a superb investment in your metabolism as is finding a sport you love.
5: Your Metabolism Has Slowed
Another misconception that can hold people back is the idea that your calorie needs are constant. This is not the case. If you’ve recently lost a decent amount of weight there is a good chance your metabolism has slowed. This happens because your body gets lighter and your brain begins fighting fat loss.
Let me explain with a graph:
This graph show’s what happened to 12 people that were placed on a 25% caloric deficit for three months. They lost an average of 13 lbs (6kg) and their mean energy expenditure fell by 454 calories. This adaptation was 371 calories greater than what was expected from the change in muscle and fat mass alone, something people in the field call ‘adaptive thermogenesis‘.
Solution: Be patient and take breaks
To continue progressing during a fat loss phase it normal to have to adjust. Gradually lowering your calorie intake to keep things moving is exactly how the pros do it. If you’ve been dieting for a long time (over 10 weeks) take a break to give your metabolism a rest.
6: You’ve Got Medical Issues
For the vast majority of healthy people weight loss is a matter of finding a sustainable way to control your caloric intake. This is not an easy task, but for most of us weight loss is largely a matter of getting calories right while taking care of a few small details like eating enough protein and doing some exercise.
A share of the population have underlying medical issues which can mess with this calculation. Sure they are still subject to the same laws of physics, but a genuine medical an already tough task near impossible. Issues like under active thyroid, insulin resistance, PCOS, Cushing’s syndrome, diabetes, medication side affects, Hashimoto’s disease . . .
Solution: Seek professional advice
See your doctor if you believe you may have an underlying medical issue.
7: You’re Eating Too Many Calories
In the vast majority of cases the reason why people can’t lose weight is simply that they are eating too many calories.
It’s not the types of food. It’s not the macronutrient composition. It’s not the number of meals. They’ve tested changing these while keeping calories constant, and our bodies just don’t seem to care much
Solution: Keep calm and adjust 😉
Losing weight is hard. You need to find a sustainable way to take control of your calorie intake, and then be patient enough to see gradual progress appear on scale without impatiently changing course.
If you can do this very good things will happen.